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How to Select Pasta

Buongiorno and welcome to Lisa’s Italian Kitchen. Today I’m going to explain how to select the perfect cut of pasta for your sauce.

So I’m frequently asked, “Lisa, why are there so many different types of pasta”? Well in Italy we make each cut of pasta to go with your sauce to make your sauce taste the best and adhere the best to the pasta. So let’s start for example with our classic spaghetti.


Spaghetti is a smooth pasta so nothing really adheres to it very well. As a result you want to use a smooth sauce. Something like a classic tomato. Like my Lisa’s Italian Kitchen Classic Tomato Sauce. It coats the pasta, but if it runs off and is in your bowl it’s fine because it’s a smooth pasta with a smooth sauce.

Small Shells

As opposed to something like this which are small shells that are very popular both in the United States and in Italy and are full of ridges. These shells for example have ridges on the outside and then of course they have the large opening of the shell. So a nice chunky sauce is perfect with a ridged pasta like this because it gets into all the crevices. So something like for example a classic Sicilian sauce, like a sardine sauce that has raisins and pine nuts and is a very chunky sauce. That’s perfect on something like these shells.


Then of course we have our classic pappardelle. A pappardelle is a very elegant pasta. It’s a wide flat noodle frequently used in northern Italy, very popular in Tuscany and served with a porcino mushroom sauce so you get the wonderful filling, satisfying taste of the thick pasta plus the porcino mushroom.

Penne Rigate

Then we have a classic, the penne rigate. Well penne rigate again are full of ridges, very popular with children in Italy and in the United States. And these are wonderful for something like a meat sauce or a chunky vegetable sauce because you’ve got the openings of the penne and you’ve got the, rigate means lined, so you have all the ridges or lines on the pasta.


We have a really fun pasta like this which we call zitoni. A thinner version or a smaller version of this is called bucatini. Also very popular in the United States. This is a wonderful pasta for a sauce with lots of ingredients like a semi chunky vegetable sauce or a meat sauce because it gets inside the hole of the pasta. So you get the sauce inside, outside. Wonderful, really makes your sauce jump off the plate.


And then what about something like this. These are what we call rotini in Italy and rotini are like they’re like a corkscrew basically. This is the classic pasta to eat with pesto. Pesto, this is traditional basil pesto that I have here, but there are lots of different types of pesto. Pesto is chunky because it has the basil, it has the pine nuts, the garlic in it, so you want it with something like a rotini – a corkscrew pasta because it adheres to all the ridges.


We have a wonderful creamy vodka here from Lisa’s Italian Kitchen and that’s perfect on something like a fettuccine noodle. Fettuccine is a flat spaghetti, if you will. So you want something like a creamy vodka because it is going to sort of roll off the pasta, not going to adhere but complements it beautifully.


Here we have a classic rigatoni, also very popular with children. Rigatoni is a hearty pasta with ridges, large hole inside, you want to use it with a chunky meat sauce or something big and chunky that’s gonna adhere to the pasta.


And last we have here are farfalle, known as butterflies or bow ties. Again a really fun sort of pasta to eat. I make this pasta, and the recipe is in my cookbook “Whatever Happened to Sunday Dinner?”, with chopped-up prosciutto and peas in a cream sauce. And it’s wonderful because the prosciutto and the peas get into all the ridges of the bow ties. It’s also excellent with my Vegetable Primavera which is a semi chunky sauce, because it adheres so beautifully to the pasta.

So remember when you’re shopping for a pasta you want a cut that’s really going to make you taste every bite of your sauce adhered to the pasta and enjoy every bite.

As always, buon appetito!


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